Sitting Down With… is a new Blue Bomber Talk series that will be featured on the blog on a semi-regular basis. The mandate of the series is simple: to sit down with veteran or retired CFL players and give them a chance to tell their story. The player featured in our first article is CFL receiver Chris Bauman.
Chris Bauman was drafted first overall by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2007 and went on to record 116 receptions for 1,511 yards and six touchdowns with the team from 2007-2010. Bauman went on to sign with Edmonton for the 2011 season before joining Calgary in 2012. After missing the entire 2013 season due to injury, the Stampeders brought Bauman back for their playoff run and eventual Grey Cup championship in 2014. Bauman, currently a free agent, is set to join the Toronto Argonauts for their mini-camp in Florida at the beginning of May. If all goes well, he will sign a contract with the club to return to professional football in Ontario.
On April 30, 2015 I was able to conduct an interview with Bauman reflecting on his career and looking forward to life after football. Here is the edited transcript of that interview.
Hodge: With the CFL draft coming up just under two weeks, I thought you, as a former first overall pick, could take us through a little bit of what the draft experience is like. Did you know ahead of time that you were going to be picked first overall?
Bauman: No. We talked to Hamilton a bit at the combine but we really didn’t talk to them at all for that whole off-season after college ended. I really thought I was going to Calgary with the third pick. I was already looking at houses to rent. That’s were I thought I was going. I knew Edmonton was taking Warren Kean second overall, so Hamilton never really crossed my mind.
Hodge: So Hamilton selects you first overall as a young kid just out of college; I imagine that had to have been pretty special.
Hodge: Did you celebrate with family?
Bauman: No, they (Hamilton) actually flew me out the day before the draft. They wanted me there for it. I had a big party at my dad’s planned and they wound up going along with it but, no, I flew out that day for the draft.
Hodge: Going first overall, did you feel that added any extra pressure early on in your career?
Bauman: For sure, especially in Hamilton because they were losing a lot.
Hodge: They went 3-15 your first year there.
Bauman: First two years.
Hodge: Well, I’m a Bomber fan, so sadly I know all about 3-15.
Bauman: Yes, it’s horrible (laughs).
Hodge: And I don’t think you’d mind me saying, there weren’t exactly a ton of offensive stars around you when you got to Hamilton.
Bauman: Yeah, I guess. Not too many I could look up to and learn from because they (Tiger-Cats management) were just getting rid of guys every week.
Hodge: You know, I grew up watching Milt Stegall with the Bombers and I’ll always call him the best receiver in CFL history. A lot of people will point to Geroy Simon or Allen Pitts, and when they do, I’ll say, ‘well, you know, Geroy and Allen had hall of famers throwing them the ball. Milt had T.J. Rubley, Troy Kopp and, you know, a lot of no-name guys.’ And you kind of found yourself in a similar situation in Hamilton.
Bauman: [There was] just no continuity. Not even with the coaches. You couldn’t get used to anybody. You couldn’t build on your relationship with anyone. It was tough. I was really looking forward to learning from Mike Morreale but he was one of the last cuts in camp (in 2007). And my receiving coach (Dennis Goldman) was new to the game, so he didn’t really know the nuances of Canadian football (Goldman had coached at the high school and college levels in the United States from 1971-2006) so it was tough to learn things.
Hodge: Yeah, that had to have been tough – young guy coming in without a strong mentor. Especially considering Morreale would have been the perfect guy for that role.
Bauman: I was looking forward to it. And he had a great camp. It made no sense for them to cut him or (Rob) Hitchcock.
Hodge: Had to have been salary moves.
Bauman: Yeah. And, I mean, he (Charlie Taaffe) was a new coach. I don’t know if it was because they (Morreale and Hitchcock) were such veteran players and he (Taaffe) wanted to set his own ‘this is how the team’s gonna run’-type thing.
Hodge: Change the culture?
Bauman: Yup. For sure.
Hodge: Interesting. So, going into the draft this year there are obviously a lot of highly touted receivers. Manitoba’s Nic Demski, Lemar Durant out of SFU, Jake Harty out of Calgary, and Addison Richards out of your alma mater of Regina are all expected to go relatively high. As someone who’s gone through the experience before, what advice might you give these young guys coming up as far as dealing with the pressure is concerned?
Bauman: Just enjoy it. It’s all you can do. There’s no point – you can’t control anything. When your name gets called that’s where you’re going. And, I guess, try and learn as much as you can because it’s tough. I mean, you can’t prepare for it, especially your rookie year. There’s nothing you can do to prepare for camp.
Hodge: Now, Lemar Durant is coming out of an NCAA program at SFU, but the rest of the guys are coming out of CIS football the same as you did. What do you think is the hardest thing about making the transition from CIS to the CFL?
Hodge: Speed of the defensive backs or speed of the whole game?
Bauman: Both, but definitely the whole game. But the one thing they (the CIS receivers) have to their advantage is that they know the CFL game, especially if they’re a slot receiver. There’s a lot of Americans where it takes them a few weeks if not months to actually learn how to use the waggle to your advantage because if you’re not using it, the [defensive backs] are way too fast. You will not get open. So you need to know how to use it and how to use it to your advantage.
Hodge: Looking back, and this is going all the way your days at Vincent Massey to your most recent CFL experience in Calgary, are there one or maybe a small handful of coaches, mentors, or fellow players who had a special impact on you as a person or as a player?
Bauman: Yeah, I mean, I still keep in touch with all my coaches from high school. Every time I’m home I still work out there, so, they’ve obviously been very inspirational to me. Not even so much with football, just life in general. They’re just great people, great coaches, so I think I’ve learned a lot from them in just how to respect the game and respect your opponents. So they’re probably one of the biggest influences on me. At university, Rick Seaman was my receiving coach and he’s very technical with how he taught the game (Seaman, who just completed his thirty-first year with the Rams, earned the 2014 Football Canada Gino Fracas Award as the CIS Assistant Coach of the Year this past November). He’s got a great track record of producing receivers at the university starting with (Jason) Clermont and even before then, so he knows what he’s doing and he really makes you focus on the intricacies of catching. He’d have us put our hands up and he’d move our fingers a couple of centimeters or millimeters each way. That’s how precise he was. He had a doctorate in mathematics (Seaman has taught mathematics at the University of Regina since 1994), so he’s a very smart man and it was fun learning from him. I still talk with him to this day, so he was definitely a good role model to have in college. And then, professionally, it’s tough. I think more so players than coaches. It was fun playing with Arland Bruce. He understood the game and was very fun to learn from. He’s great athlete and probably one of the best guys for jump ball situations. He just tracked the ball so well and had great body control. It was pretty amazing watching him play. Fred Stamps, too. I still don’t think to this day that there’s a guy in this league who can cover him one-on-one. He’s just so fast, so smooth, and his hands are unbelievable. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for having the hands that he has.
Hodge: I’ve often said that for many years the two best receivers in the CFL were Terrence Edwards and Fred Stamps and nobody really knew who they were.
Bauman: Yup. And then the coaching staff in Calgary’s great. There’s a reason they’re always on top of the division year in, year out. They treat their vets well. They bring in guys. They develop quarterbacks. They keep the continuity of the team, which is what you need. You can’t wipe out the team every year and expect to win. You need that veteran presence and that’s what they do. They keep their coaches, they keep everybody in line, and people want to stay there. Coaches, even if they’re staying as receiving coach or [offensive] coordinator or whatever they’re doing, they want to stay there. They want to be there and they want to learn from ‘Huf’ (Stampeder head coach John Hufnagel). I think what they’re doing there with Dave (Dickenson) is great. He’s going to make a great head coach and he’s (Dickenson) learned a lot from him (Hufnagel). It’s just been fun playing with them.
Hodge: One thing that struck me this off-season was seeing Matt Walter, a guy who’s probably good enough to start for a lot of CFL teams as a national running back, re-sign in Calgary. I went into the off-season thinking, wow – that guy’s going to get a major payday. And then he re-ups with the Stamps.
Bauman: Yup. Learning from Cornish, though, that guy’s a beast.
Hodge: Oh, absolutely.
Bauman: He’s unbelievable.
Hodge: I’m just saying that I think seeing a guy like Walters stay says a lot about the program.
Bauman: Oh, it does. And he probably could have chased a payday. But, you know, you set your roots in Calgary. It’s a great city with tons of jobs. Yeah, you might not make much during the season but it’s going to open doors in the off-season and for your career after football. So, you know, establishing your name there, getting into the community doing events, it’s going to help you more and more when your career’s done.
Hodge: We’ve chatted a little bit about your injury history, breaking a wrist and tearing an ACL in the middle of your stint with the Stampeders. How much do you feel injuries have held back your career?
Bauman: Well, obviously there’s been some injuries at bad times (laughs). I was doing well at training camp (in 2013 with Calgary). I think I was projected to be the starter going into week one when I broke my wrist. It happened to be the scaphoid, which is the worst bone you can break. There’s no blood flow there, so it took me thirteen weeks to heal. I practiced every day with a cast on. I was catching one-handed most of the time, just trying to stay out there and keep my legs just to show the coaches that I wasn’t just going to sit back and let the injury wear me down. As soon as I was healthy I got the okay to play and earned my way back on the starting roster. And last practice I, on probably one of the last few plays, was trying to get more reps just to get my legs back under me, and it was just the perfect storm: my legs were tired, that turf was old, I had the worst cleats on I could possibly have – little too long – and I tore my knee. I was ready to start that week against BC. Injuries happen all the time and a lot of them happen at practice just because you can’t let up. As soon as you do you open yourself up to it (injuries). And any day it could end, that’s the thing in football.
Hodge: When you’re ready to pack it in and call it a career, do you have any plans? Or is it wide open?
Bauman: That’s what I’m trying to figure out now because I know my career is almost done. I’ve actually just been in contact with Jack Fulton who started a program in Calgary called Life Choice Dynamics. He’s been working closely with Calgary and now, since he’s established there, has actually branched out to a lot of other teams where they’re trying to set guys up and have them start thinking about what they want to do (after football). He’s having career fairs every year, meeting with corporate sponsors, just so he can start building a database of companies that want to help guys when they’re done or even in the off-season so they can keep them in the CFL. It’s no good for a team to have these guys here all year and then, as soon as the season’s over, they leave. You just can’t build a team that way. So he’s trying to get (American) guys to stay because they have the work visas. Their names go a lot further in Canada than it does in the States. No one knows a CFL player down there, really – maybe their high school. But it makes sense for them to stay in Canada, so that’s what he’s trying to do. Give guys the best chance possible to succeed after football. So I’ve been in contact with him and I think law enforcement is one of the things I want to do, so that’s what I’m planning on doing. And Calgary would be a great city to do that in, so whatever happens here, I’m probably going to start the process there. I also want to finish my degree at the U of R, so if I have to go there or do correspondence, that’s the plan.
Hodge: What do you study?
Bauman: Man, I changed my degree three times. I had no idea what I wanted to do in college. Just too young and immature.
Hodge: You wanted to play football.
Bauman: That’s what I wanted to do. And I succeeded at that, but if you want to get anything done in the future you need that degree, so I’m going to talk to an advisor and see what the best course of action is to get that done.
Hodge: I have a list of ten questions here that I thought we could just fire through quickly. Here it goes: favorite sport outside of football?
HodgeH: If you could see any musical group, alive or dead, who would it be?
Bauman: Probably AC/DC, just because they put on a good show.
Hodge: Pregame meal?
Bauman: Night before, probably surf and turf. On game day, if there’s a Cora’s in the city, I’m there. I get two meals: the strawberry waffle and probably eggs Benedict, something like that.
Hodge: Best defensive back you ever faced?
Bauman: (long pause) Well, the one who probably gave me the most trouble was Ike Charlton. He was so long and I was in my first couple years and still getting used to the game, so I couldn’t get his hands off me. It was tough.
Hodge: I guess he would have been with Winnipeg in the East with you guys back then.
Bauman: Yup. It was brutal.
Hodge: Best moment in your CFL career?
Bauman: It probably was my last game in Hamilton, the East Semi-Final against Toronto. I remember it was just a fun game, very emotional. I knew it was probably going to be my last game there. My dad was in the crowd and I ended up leading the team in yards that game (Bauman recorded five receptions for 108 yards). We did everything we needed to do to get the game to overtime and it was just heartbreaking to lose the way we did (Hamilton lost the game 16-13 on a tipped Kevin Glenn interception with twenty-two seconds remaining). But that was probably one of the most fun games I’ve played in.
Hodge: Favorite beverage?
Bauman: Scotch. I’ve really gotten into scotch now and I like trying all the different kinds.
Hodge: Who delivered the hardest hit you ever took?
Bauman: I think it was Kelly Malveaux. I think it was him, don’t really remember.
Hodge: I guess the hit must have been pretty hard, then.
Bauman: (laughs) He hit hard. He played for Winnipeg and Edmonton that year (2009) and he smacked me two weeks in a row.
Hodge: Now, you said you changed your major at the U of R many times, but what was the most interesting course you took there?
Bauman: That would have been when I was in geology. I love geology but I knew I was never going to get that done just because all of our practicums were over the summer.
Hodge: I guess it’s hard to explain the football thing to a geology professor.
Bauman: Yeah, so it wasn’t going to work out but I love geology.
Hodge: Indoor kind of guy or outdoor kind of guy?
Bauman: If it’s cold, indoor. I don’t like the cold. Growing up here (in Brandon, Manitoba), you got used to it but spending my last five winters down in Florida really softened me. I just can’t stand the cold.
Hodge: What were you doing down in Florida?
Bauman: I was doing real estate for a bit, but, I mean, for the first four years I couldn’t work because I didn’t have my citizenship. But I finally got that and my real estate license and I was doing that for a bit, but before that I was just golfing and working out. But I definitely can’t stand the cold now. Also, with the arthritis in the knees you can definitely feel it. But if it’s nice out, I mean, there’s nothing better than being out on the golf course.
Hodge: Last question. Post-football dream job? I guess it sounds like you might still be figuring that out.
Bauman: I am figuring that out, but if I could do anything it would be professional golf. I’d love to be on tour. Those guys are rock stars. It’d just be a great profession but I think that ship has sailed.
Hodge: You never know.
Bauman: That’s true, you never know. I’m in the prime age range, but I’d probably have to drop everything and just play everyday and that’s just not feasible.
Hodge: Old football players are young golfers. Different age range.
Bauman: That is true. A lot of golf is mental and I think I have an advantage there from playing professional football, but we’ll see.
John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk